By Denrele Animasaun

“New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.” — John Locke

The Governor of Osun State, Rauf Arebgesola was in the UK recently on the invitation of the All-party parliamentary group on Agriculture and food for development and the partnership for Child Development, Imperial College, London to deliver an address inside the House of Commons.

The invitation was in recognition of the outstanding performance of Arebgesola’s elementary school model, O ‘Meal. If I am preaching to the converted, I wholeheartedly apologize. Nigeria does not often get good things to celebrate. This is one of those rare moments, that is worthy of pride and deserving of recognition.

We should all demand such similar programme in every state and we should push for the federal government to lead the way by putting our money to good use. I  do not  understand why some of  our  leaders are  hell-bent on wasting the finite oil reserve by recklessly writing off our young peoples’ future, by not investing in the most precious community of all: our young.

What Osun did was review the state education and it quickly realized that the future of its society (or any society) rests solely on educating its young. They also realized that there were issues to be overcome, like hunger (we all know that an army marches on its stomach). They established that in   order for the children to be effectively educated that a comprehensive programme has  to consider and put  in place the mechanism fully incorporate every aspect of the child’s nutritional health and wellbeing and that is what the O ‘Meals does. The state identified from the onset that there is a direct correlation between a healthy body and a sound mind. With this multi prong approach. It is no wonder this programme works and pays untold dividend.

Since its launch in April 30th, 2012 to date, the enrolments of elementary children have increased from 203,858 to 252,793 pupils (representing 24.0% increase).  And the programme costs the administration N3, 813,700,000.00, which is at the cost per child per year is N15, 100.00 or N45.70 per day. It has also employed and trained 3,100 women community food vendors, 462 fish Out-Growers for mass fish production, 1,000 farmers including 90 women farmers were graduated under the cocoyam rebirth programme. (Pink cocoyam is more nutritious through our university in Osun)O’MEALS fed the pupils with:  456,000 crates (or 8,400 crates per week) of eggs, 400 metric tonnes of fish 15,000 whole chickens and 35 heads of cattle per school week

What I find fascinating is, that the programme factored in deworming the children, stated that it is to ensure that the nutritional value gained is not lost through worm infestation and other parasites in their bodies that could cause anemia and Vitamin A deficiency for growing children. We embarked on hygiene promotion drive through hand-washing with soap and water to prevent dysentery and diarrhea which unsanitary environment can cause.
And  this  is what  the Osun Government has done, so there is no excuse whatsoever to delay  on  this  one that  should  be  applauded and  replicated nationwide. We  are on to  a  winner here and I really  question the  wisdom of  our  leaders, and  our  people who  are  so  hell bent on paralysing the benefit by simply stalling on  the  grounds of  tribe and  religious divide.

The model like I said in my previous article is one of simplicity, common sense and pragmatism. We need to invest in our young and Osun State has done exactly that. You would have thought other states would follow suit, but no, they instead are fighting amongst themselves and keep ignoring the most valuable resources of all, the young people.

In his presentation, Aregbesola spoke about the use of biometric registration of beneficiaries of the Home Grown School Feeding programme worldwide to eliminate corruption and guarantee transparency. Addressing the concerns of development partners on what was referred to as all-pervading corruption through which project funds were usually lost in the past, the Governor did expressed with conviction that once beneficiaries of the programme are registered biometrically, banks that are linked with the programme funding would rely on the data to process payment and ensure that no fund is lost at the implementation stage.

In order for the programme to have a long lasting effect it does face some major challenges; that of  funding and sustaining O’ MEAL with the limited resources as available revenue to the administration.  The governor did say that his administration would require more support from its technical partners in the area of capacity building to achieve biometric registration and digitization of beneficiaries of O’MEALS programme to guarantee transparency and efficient resource management. More importantly, it was clear that there is and remains lack of political will and funding by states to embark on the programme.  Osun remains the forerunner out of the original 13 pilot states in the Nigerian federation.

There lies our problem, we end up harming ourselves rather than embrace this innovative and pragmatic programme. The  beneficiary of  this  programme are  forging  ahead  regardless and  I  hope  that they  will  grow up  with  open minds  and without  the  poison of  prejudice. Osun State after all, provides for all children regardless of differences and that is how it should be. After all, we are all Nigerians.

Let us be clear, this programme does not come cheap but the investment will pay dividend in spades for many generations to come. It will benefit Nigeria enormously. So imagine if every state was plugged into the programme, how much more, will it be? For those who cannot see its significance, then, it is sad and they only have themselves to blame. We have  to  learn to recognize innovation.


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